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The entire PlayStation 2 Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer as found on the current North American PS3 motherboard
European PS3 to have inferior backwards compatibility compared to North American and Japanese models

Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) announced that the PlayStation 3 to be launched in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australasia on March 23, 2007 will utilize a “new hardware specification.” Presumably, the new specification will differ from all the currently released PlayStation 3 consoles launched in Japan and North America.

In a press release issued by SCEE, the company describes the main features of the system that are common knowledge, and adds that the Euro-spec machine “also embodies a new combination of hardware and software emulation which will enable PS3 to be compatible with a broad range of original PlayStation titles and a limited range of PlayStation 2 titles.”

The European PS3 will lack the Emotion Engine and Graphics Synthesizer (EE+GS) chip necessary to provide hardware-based backwards compatibility for previous-generation titles. Instead, Sony plans to accomplish compatibility with older games through software emulation—a trickier and more fickle feat than simply including and utilizing PS2 processors.

“The Emotion Engine has been removed and that function has been replaced with software,” said Nick Sharples, a spokesman for Sony in London. That has a “slightly detrimental effect” on compatibility, he said to the IDG News Service.

“The backwards compatibility is not going to be as good as the U.S. and Japan models,” another Sony spokesman said to Reuters.

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has been using a software emulation scheme since inception to make its system backwards compatible with original Xbox games. While Microsoft has promised that it will continue working on improving backwards compatibility through system updates, the Xbox 360 is only able to play from a limited list of older games.

Gamers keen on exploring PlayStation’s extensive back catalog will be disappointed to find that their upcoming European PS3s will only be able to play a limited selection of previous generation games. Sony isn’t viewing backwards compatibility on the PS3 as a priority, and says that new generation games should be the system’s main focus.

“PS3 is first and foremost a system that excels in playing games specifically designed to exploit the power and potential of the PS3 system,” said David Reeves, President of SCEE. “Games designed for PS3 offer incredible graphics quality, stunning gameplay and massively improved audio and video fidelity that is simply not achievable with PS and PS2 games.”

Sony Europe defends its decision by saying that the costs savings of backwards compatibility will be put back into other company investments.

“Rather than concentrate on PS2 backwards compatibility, in the future, company resources will be increasingly focused on developing new games and entertainment features exclusively for PS3, truly taking advantage of this exciting technology,” stated Reeves.

Analysts have estimated that Sony loses $241 on every 60GB PS3—the only version available for the March 23 launch. Word of a cost-cutting strategy came from Japan earlier this month, which points to Sony’s strong desire to improve its bottom line.

The hardware changes to the European PS3 represent the first step taken to reduce costs. “If we are able to reduce the production cost, it has a follow-on effect” on the selling price, Sharples said. But the new, less costly PS3 aimed at Europe carries one of the priciest stickers for the system, revealing a contradiction in the Sony representative’s statement. In Europe, the lone 60GB PS3 is priced €599 (US$786) or £425 (US$830), and for Australia $999 (US$791)—more expensive than the North American and Japanese PS3 consoles equipped with the EE+GS chip.

Sony Computer Entertainment America executives have gone on record to say the PS3 will be “difficult to cost reduce,” and that any reductions that do occur will not immediately translate to lower prices. Furthermore, iSuppli estimates that the EE+GS chip carries a material cost of $27, leaving some to question the cost/benefit of the chip’s removal.

While SCEE preaches the cost-savings advantage of the new hardware specification, it now must divert resources to individually tweak and perform QA for each PlayStation 2 game to be emulated by the PS3 hardware. Sony would not comment on which games will be compatible with PS3’s new software emulation, but did say that gamers will be able to check whether their titles are compatible with PS3 at a special European backwards compatibility site starting March 23.

Sony Europe also said that previous-generation games not initially playable on the European PS3 might eventually be emulated as the company releases firmware updates. "It would be reasonable to assume that the better-selling games are the ones we will be putting effort into," Sharples said.

The creation of a differing hardware specification for Europe and other territories splits the PlayStation 3 manufacturing into another separate line. There are currently two variations of the PS3, differing in hard drive size, memory card reader and wireless connectivity. The European spec would add a third, unless Sony has plans to do away with the EE+GS chips in all PS3s worldwide.

SCEA remains mum on whether or not the hardware revision will apply in its own market. When contacted by DailyTech for comment on the future plans for North American PS3s, a representative stated, “We have no announcement regarding any hardware specification changes for PS3 in North America at this time.”

Regardless of what future hardware revisions may come, Sony of America and Japan are expected to continue support for over 1.48 million EE+GS-included PlayStation 3 consoles currently in the hands of North American and Japanese gamers.



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RE: Immoral
By Moishe on 2/26/2007 8:56:44 AM , Rating: 3
Unethical, maybe, but immoral?
While I agree that this is a step backwards (Sony agrees too), they are trying to cut very high costs while still providing similar functionality. I'm not a fan of Sony at all, but this seems like a smart business move. They need to do everything possible to win at the future of gaming, and backward compatibility is not the primary focus for the future.

If I were to buy a PS<anything> it would be for new games. Those who have the older games will likely still play them on their PS2, so there is no loss, unless they were dumb enough to sell the PS2 when they bought the PS3.

IMO backward compatibility on something like a game console is a waste of resources. It's spending extra money so that you can have a checkbox on a feature list. B.C. doesn't provide better looking games, it doesn't provide access to games that you'd normally not have access to (since you can still play them on the PS2), it doesn't improve the console's power. It's a feature designed to sway the people who are on the fence about whether or not to buy it.

I think Nintendo's strategy is best. Sony should port and recompile older, popular games (from anywhere) and sell them online. They would get the same benefit without the hardware cost.


RE: Immoral
By MonkeyPaw on 2/26/2007 10:39:32 AM , Rating: 2
Well, the problem I see is that Sony is the one who chose to make the PS3 what it is, and at what price to sell it. It's only a few months since PS3 launched, and now they are taking stuff out? Any company that starts "defeaturing" a product while not changing the pricepoint should be seriously questioned. This "business decision" was made in spite of the customer and only stands to benefit Sony. Oh, and I highly doubt these savings will go towards future products/enhancements--how can it when it's only reducing the bleeding of a console that is being sold at a considerable loss?

Personally, I don't see backwards compatibility as a big deal, since PS2 game owners are also PS2 console owners. Sure, having 2 consoles to play all your games is not as elegant, but it works far better, and you can extend the life of that fancy BluRay drive. My problem is that Sony is pulling parts out after the fact. If emulation hardware was too expensive to make the PS3 profitable in the first place(or less of a loss, in this case), then don't have it at all. Think of all the time and effort they spent on this hardware, and now they aren't even going to use it in several markets. Just how long did Sony think they could sell such an expensive product for a loss? This decision should have been made long before release, IMO.


RE: Immoral
By Moishe on 2/26/2007 10:55:27 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, the removal off EE-GS is definitely not a good business move, but I don't think it's immoral.

The PS3 from start to finish has been a joke and i'm sure Sony will pay the price. If I were european and a console gamer, I would not buy it. I am neither though.


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